When Chris Smoke started classes at Mesa Community College after high school, he thought he would study mechanical engineering.
Then Smoke saw a flyer for a biotech class.
"I had no idea when I started what I was getting into," Smoke said. "I really had no direction at that point. I took the class and loved it."
Smoke fi nished his associate’s degree and is now studying molecular bioscience and biotechnology at Arizona State University.
Biotechnology has created a wide-open field for careers, with workers conducting research that could impact the future for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, heart disease, MS and a host of other human diseases.
In school, students learn the skills and techniques they need in research labs. Smoke’s teachers taught him biological processes and how to manipulate them. In his research lab at ASU, he can now isolate a specifi c protein, and express it in a cell so it can be useful in different biomedical applications such as improving survivability in stroke victims.
"The one thing I like about biotechnology is figuring out how different cellular processes work. I think that’s interesting," Smoke said.
Lewis Obermiller, who oversees MCC’s biotechnology program, said a variety of students enter the program.
"A lot of students enter the program knowing someone who has a disease or they have it themselves," he said. "Most of them are interested in finding a cure for that and playing an active role in it. Some of them are just interested in discovery and research."
Arizona is trying to lure more bioscience and biomedical companies to the Valley. A collaborative effort will create the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix, with education and industry.
One research enterprise in the Valley is the Translational Genomics Research Institute. Janine Tilli, director of human resources for TGen, said her institute hires people with various educational backgrounds.
"We hire everything from lab technicians of varying levels to staff scientists," she said.
Staff scientists and investigators must hold a doctorate degree, she said. About 80 percent of the workforce hold a four-year degree, she said.
"There are so many opportunities in all areas of science. We certainly want people to look at all these fields," she said.
The increase in interest and workers in biotechnology and biomedicine will create a better pool of applicants for Valley companies and hospitals, said John Hayden, health research scientist at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix. Several students complete internships under Hayden’s guidance.
Hayden entered the fi eld of biomedicine and technology more than 20 years, interested in the "discovery of important new therapies" to help disease victims. He is conducting studies on the effect of infl ammation on pulmonary disease.
"In general we’re serving the public, being able to present new therapeutics to them to help either curb or – more ideally - prevent the onset of disease," he said.
The future looks good for anyone interested in this fi eld, he said.